Clipper Mill’s Oddest Museum Is Closing

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Les Harris’ Amaranthine Museum in Clipper Mill, a 10-year-old attraction that showcases 200 paintings by the late artist Les Harris, is closing permanently this month at its current location and moving to a different site with less space.

Laurel Harris Durenberger, one of the artist’s daughters, announced online that June 12 will be the last day for the museum at its current leased space, 2010 Clipper Park Road in Woodberry, next to Spike Gjerde’s Woodberry Kitchen restaurant.

One likely candidate to take over the current Amaranthine Museum space is Woodberry Kitchen, which is one of the area’s busiest restaurants and already shares an entranceway with the museum.

One reason for downsizing is to lessen costs, said Sally Harris, the artist’s widow. “The family just can’t afford it…anymore,”  she said. “We get some contributions and donations, but it’s not enough.”

 A “closing celebration” for the non profit museum will be held on the premises from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 12. The Harris family, which operates the museum, also has indicated that individual works within the collection are available for sale, or the collection could be sold as an entirety.
“Please consider bidding on our silent auction and joining us for the closing celebration on June 12th,” she wrote in a brief note on Facebook. “We will reopen in the Fall in a smaller venue.” A few more details are provided on the museum’s website:
“The paintings will be covered and the museum closed for the upcoming summer months. However, we do anticipate reopening in the autumn in a new, much smaller home. Now, before our move, is the perfect time to purchase your own piece of Les’ Space, Time Continuum. Prices are listed now here on the website.”
Durenburger did not say in her message exactly where the museum will move. A museum website message posted at the end of 2015 states that the property manager for the area “has offered us a new location within the Clipper community…It will be a smaller space and we face the brilliant challenge of moving, hanging, lighting, fitting and otherwise embracing an all new vista…
“We are very excited about the move, but, we do continue to search for an ultimate home for the work, one which can keep the art together as a totality far into the future. While we search, we are entertaining purchase offers on individual pieces and welcome your connections to potential collectors.”
Charles Leslie Harris Jr., who died in 2008 at age 84, began his collection in the early 1980s as the Studio Gallery, in another location within the Clipper Park campus. He moved the collection to its current location in 2006 and called it the Amaranthine Museum, after the amaranth flower.  The museum’s five year lease expired at the end of 2015, and it has been on a month to month lease since then.
The 2,200 square foot space is laid out like a labyrinth filled with Harris’ paintings. The artwork is organized chronologically by subject from the beginning of time to the present. The museum was regularly cited as one of the oddest museums in Baltimore; the Sun called it “a metaphysical ode” to Harris.
“His two hundred paintings tell a story, create an experience unique in the world and invite us to move from local to non-local thinking,” the museum website states. “For 30 years, tens of thousands of visitors have moved through Les’ labyrinth and traversed time, space and other dimensions.”
Sally Harris said the idea of closing and downsizing is bittersweet for the family. “It’s been such a blessing,” she said. “It’s very uplifting for visitors. But it’s becoming a burden for the family. That’s what’s sad.” Sally Harris said she has heard that Woodberry Kitchen would like to move into the museum space, possibly to expand its kitchen. But she said that is not firm, as far as she knows.
A representative for Woodberry Kitchen did not respond immediately to a request for information.
Holly Harris, another daughter of Les Harris, said the family is working with the Clipper management to move to a smaller location on the same campus, one with about half as much space. She said the artwork could be displayed in a smaller space the way art was displayed at the old Haussner’s restaurant in Highlandtown – where paintings were “on top of each other.”
Ultimately, she said, the family would like to find an individual or group that could take over the collection as an entirely and continue to display it in a climate-controlled environment.
This is the second local museum to announce a closure or downsizing within the past year. The Sports Legends Museum at Camden Station, an offshoot of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, closed abruptly last fall and has not reopened.

Ed Gunts

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